Project Management

Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

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The Importance of Strategic Management for Technical Program Managers

By Sree Rao, PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP

During my initial phases as a technical program manager, I was heavily focused on the execution of programs and didn’t bother much with strategy. As I gained more experience, I realized the importance of understanding strategy and how it can uplevel us as program managers.

Based on my experience, there is a common misconception that TPMs only play a role in program execution once a strategy has been determined. Strategy plays a crucial role in determining the success of any program, so in this post I will discuss why being plugged into strategy is essential for TPMs.

Strategy vs Plan: Understanding the Differences
Before diving into the importance of strategic management, it's important to understand the difference between “strategy” and “plan.” Strategic management involves the formulation and implementation of long-term plans to achieve organizational goals. Simply put, strategy is the what and why, while a plan is the how.

What is Strategic Management?
Strategic management is a vast topic—there are even master’s programs that delve into it in detail (I will not be able to do that kind of justice to it in this post). A high-level summary is that it refers to the process of defining an organization's mission, vision and overall direction, as well as making decisions on how to allocate resources to achieve those goals. It involves analyzing the internal and external environment—identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis), and developing strategies to address them.

One of the key benefits of strategic management is its ability to provide a clear roadmap for achieving project/program goals. Strategy involves conducting market research, analyzing competitive landscapes, identifying customer needs, and developing long-term plans that align with business objectives. By having a well-defined strategy in place, we can ensure that our projects are focused on delivering value to stakeholders—while also contributing toward the organization's overall success.

Product managers usually create the strategy, but TPMs play a significant part in putting it into action.

Why is Strategic Management Important for TPMs?

  1. It forces you to focus on the long term, not just the short term. I have worked with teams that did not have product managers. These teams were identifying and executing on features that would benefit in the short term, but were not necessarily thinking about the long term. This has served us well when the customer base was small, but was not sustainable when the customer base began to grow. This is where TPMs can be force multipliers—by understanding the fundamentals of strategic management, TPMs can help ensure the teams are set up for long-term success.
  2. You can track KPIs/benefits over time. As TPMs, we not only should be tracking program/project key performance indicators, but also track if we are achieving the benefits we set out to achieve with the program. This includes monitoring metrics/KPIs well after the programs have been implemented. This involves setting clear targets and KPIs, regularly monitoring progress toward these goals, and making adjustments as necessary based on the data we collect. By having a well-defined strategy in place that includes specific milestones and metrics, we can ensure that our projects are aligned with broader business objectives. This also provides us with valuable insights into how to improve performance over time.
  3. It aligns efforts with goals. As the saying goes, “Ideas are a dime a dozen.” In companies that foster a bottom-up culture, we often receive an abundance of project and feature ideas from team members. By understanding the organization's overall strategy, TPMs can help prioritize these ideas based on their alignment with the company's goals. This ensures that resources are used efficiently and avoids confusion about what to focus on.
  4. It provides a framework for decision-making. A well-defined strategy provides a framework for decision-making throughout the project/program lifecycle. This involves analyzing various options and their potential outcomes before making a decision, as well as regularly reviewing the strategy to ensure that it remains relevant in light of changing market conditions or customer needs. By taking a more deliberate approach toward decision-making, we can minimize the risk of costly mistakes while also ensuring that our projects are aligned with broader business objectives.
  5. It provides data-driven insights. As TPMs, we have access to a wealth of data about the project's progress. By providing data-driven insights into the program's performance—and how we are tracking toward achieving goals—we can help inform strategic decisions and ensure that resources are being used effectively.

Conclusion
Strategic management is a crucial aspect of any successful technical program management effort. By participating in strategy sessions and influencing decision-making throughout the program lifecycle, we can ensure that our efforts align with broader business objectives, minimize the risk of costly mistakes, and provide valuable insights for continuous improvement over time.

Disclaimer: My experience has been only in the tech industry, and I am not sure if this is prevalent in other industries. I would love to know if you have experienced something similar.

 

Posted by Sree Rao on: October 11, 2023 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

AI Disruption to Transform Project Success Rates

By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.

One of the impacts artificial intelligence has had is prompting a reconstitution of project management. Here I look to leading industry experts to explore the benefits to project management systems due to matured AI software; and the maturity of the project manager as a data- and fact-driven champion of business outcomes and innovation. This combination of advanced project systems performance and leadership competence will significantly transform project success rates.

As a background to the current state of project management, HBR states that $48 trillion is invested annually in projects. The Standish Group notes that only 35% of projects are successful, and 65% of projects waste resources and have unrealized benefits.

Additionally, Proofhub attributes project failure to firms that lack project management delivery systems; they are prone to miss targets and overspend. It noted that 67% of projects fail because project management is undervalued; 44% of all managers do not believe in the importance of project management software; and 46% of firms place a high priority on project management. Also noted: Utilizing a good software program reduces failure by 10%, and scope creep by 17%.

More specifically, a PMI Learning Library article noted some reasons for project failure:

  1. Unclear goals and objectives
  2. Lack of resource planning
  3. Poor communication across the organization
  4. Inadequate stakeholder management
  5. Poorly defined project scope
  6. Inaccurate cost and time estimates
  7. Inadequate risk management
  8. Inexperienced project managers
  9. Unrealistic expectations

Maturing Systems
An HBR article suggests that poor project success rates are due to a low level of available mature systems. Many firms continue to rely on spreadsheets, slides and other applications that haven’t matured current practices. While the current tools are adequate in measuring project performance, they do not allow for the development of intelligent automation and collaboration across the portfolio of projects. The opportunity to apply AI to project management could improve the success ratio by a quantifiable 25%, or trillions of dollars of newly realized benefits for firms and society.

Gartner Inc. analysts predict that by 2030, AI software—driven by conversational AI, machine learning and robotic process automation for gathering data, reporting and tracking—will eliminate 80% of all project management office tasks. Gartner identifies project management disruption in six aspects:

  1. Better selection and prioritization
  2. Support for the project management office
  3. Improved, faster project definition, planning and reporting
  4. Virtual project assistants
  5. Advanced testing systems and software
  6. A new role for the project manager

PwC envisions AI-enabled project management software will improve a project leader’s decision-making process across the following five key areas crucial to success:

  1. Business insights improvements by filtering better data for relevant knowledge
  2. Risk management assessing scenarios that offer mitigation strategies
  3. Human capital in allocating resources more appropriately to meet the business priorities
  4. Integrating various technologies and specialists to improve project outcomes
  5. Active assistance by enhancing administrative tasks and stakeholder progress communications

PwC posits the advancements in project management software are an opportunity for firms and leaders that are most ready to take advantage of this disruption and reap the rewards.

PM Competence
PMI’s Project Manager Competency Development (PMCD) Framework provides an assessment and development of a project manager’s competence. It is based on the premise that competencies have a direct effect on performance. A project manager’s competence can be categorized in terms of project management knowledge, project management performance and their accomplishments, and personal competency in performing the project activities and personality characteristics. This combination is the stated success criteria for a competent project manager.

AI’s capability to assess disparate sources of big data to obtain actionable insights arms project managers with improved decision-making competence throughout the project lifecycle. However, a challenge noted by PwC’s recent analysis of OECD data (covering 200,000 jobs in 29 countries) warns that AI’s job displacement effect will automate 30% of jobs involving administrative manual tasks by the mid-2030s. This indicates a clear need to upskill project manager competence in order to thrive in the future.

In order to succeed, a firm’s culture of adaptability and lifelong learning is a cornerstone for shifting today’s project management roles into the future. They will need to expand competence in soft skills, business and management skills, technical and digital skills—all working in concert with each other.

IAPM states project managers will face fundamental changes over the next 10 years with job descriptions and roles. It suggests AI will make logical analysis and decisions, allowing the PM to focus their main area of responsibility on creativity, resolving conflicts, and innovation.

Lastly, with any transformation or disruption, one must consider the actions and obstacles—whether financial, management support, or workforce ability—to embrace and enact change. Here are some key considerations to reflect on:

  1. Does your firm value project management?
  2. Is your firm a quick adopter of intelligence-based project software?
  3. Will your firm invest in your competence development?

Post your thoughts in the comments!

References

  1. PMI: Project Management Competency Development Framework—Second Edition
  2. PMI: Why do projects really fail?
  3. HBR: How AI Will Transform Project Management
  4. Gartner Says 80 Percent of Today’s Project Management Tasks Will Be Eliminated by 2030 as Artificial Intelligence Takes Over
  5. IPAM: Will project managers soon be replaced by AI?
  6. PWC: A Virtual Partnership? How Artificial Intelligence will disrupt Project Management and change the role of Project Managers
  7. Proofhub: Top 10 Reasons Why Projects Fail (And How to Solve Them)
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: August 22, 2023 10:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

Supercharging an Organization’s Performance to Achieve its Mission

By Peter Tarhanidis, Ph.D.

There is a dramatic increase in the strategies corporations implement to meet the needs of their stakeholders. Driving value from all parts of an organization and its functions may seem like repetitive exercises—and even feel more like a medieval gauntlet with only a few successful programs. HBR (2021) wrote that by 2027, about 88 million people will be working in project management—with economic activity reaching $20 trillion USD. Also noted: Only 35% of projects are successful, leaving immense waste of resources.

There are many reasons projects fail. HBR (2021) states of the 70% of failed projects, and after exhaustive root-cause analysis across all industries, one can identify common themes such as undervaluing project management skills and methods, and poor performance. Yet organizations that apply project management methods recognized their performance had a 2.5 more times chance to be successful, and organizations can waste 28 times less resources. As such, when applied, the implementation of PM methods works.

Yet in a world filled with a variety of project taxonomies, many organizational boards are now contemplating the need to implement environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Forbes states the benefits of ESG and CSR initiatives include:

  1. Advancing organizational culture, empowering staff to do social good, and welcoming diversity.
  2. Encouraging partners and investors who are interested in long-run strategy to manage risks and opportunities by emphasizing the organization’s ethics.
  3. Raising an organization’s staff confidence and productivity, creating a workplace that achieves the business mission.

Therefore, to ensure success for ESG and CSR programs, an organization’s top leaders need to prioritize and align across all the organization’s businesses. Leaders can use the balanced scorecard to achieve this alignment, and can extend its use across the entire project portfolio.

This theory was developed by Kaplan and Norton, which state the balanced scorecard method converts the organization’s strategy into performance objectives, measures, targets and initiatives. Linking the concept of cause and effect, the balanced scorecard covers four perspectives:

  1. Customer: How do customers see us?
  2. Internal: What must we excel at?
  3. Innovation and learning: Can we continue to improve and create value?
  4. Financial: How do we look to shareholders?

Marr (N.B.) reported over 50% of companies have used this approach in the United States, the United Kingdom, Northern Europe and Japan. One clear benefit has been to align the organization’s structure to achieve its strategic goals.

In conclusion, applying project management methods and aligning an organization’s performance through the balanced scorecard can unlock ESG and CSR benefits that can supercharge a company’s efforts to achieve its mission.

References

  1. HBR: The Project Economy Has Arrived
  2. HBR: The Balanced Scorecard—Measures that Drive Performance
  3. Project Management Statistics: Trends and Common Mistakes in 2023
  4. Forbes: Three Reasons Why CSR And ESG Matter to Businesses
  5. Balanced Scorecard: How Many Companies Use This To
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: June 14, 2023 04:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

How to Improve the PMO Lead Role in Your Company

Kevin Korterud

In this high-demand/low-availability labor market, we all have to start re-thinking about how to staff one of the increasingly most pivotal roles in large, complex technology delivery: the program PMO lead.

In the past 10 or so years, we have all seen the size and scale of delivery dramatically increase as the business and technology landscape becomes more complex with multiple solutions, architectures, geographies, suppliers and organizations—and enabling layers such as cloud platforms. For new technology solutions as well as transformations, program delivery leads now spend more time than ever navigating this highly complex landscape—which leaves less time for traditional program management activities.

This situation has put an increased premium on the PMO lead role, which typically was portrayed as more of an administrative function. Ever more frequently, the PMO lead role has become closely integrated with the program delivery lead role in terms of guiding the trajectory of delivery…to the point where they resemble an adjunct delivery function to the program delivery lead.

The common dilemma today: Where does one find a PMO lead that can oversee the typical delivery operations activities such as risks, issues, workplans and tools—as well as assist the program delivery lead with critical delivery assurance efforts? In addition, how can we fill a PMO lead role with the right person in a timely manner as not to impair the mobilization progress of a delivery program?

As opposed to the traditional approach of trying to staff at the last minute when demand arises for a PMO lead role, the most effective path is to have the next generation of PMO leads on hand before you need them. Keep these three points in mind:                                                          

1. Recognize that large, complex and transformation PMOs require a unique mix of leadership skills. Programs are typically known to be a collection of delivery projects that directly fulfill a unified set of business needs. However, the landscape of programs has changed over the years where they now have to be implemented in a highly integrated, more complex technical and business environment. In addition, there can be transformative enablement capabilities such as value realization, organization change management and dependency management.

Given this landscape, PMO leads that solely oversee the execution of serial recurring PMO processes will not be successful. The PMO lead of today needs to have skills that transcend pure administrative execution by serving as a broker of conflicts, predictor of delivery volatility, as well as an organizational enabler of progress. In addition, to do so PMO leads now engage at a much higher level in an organization.

To achieve success, PMO leads need to have prior experience with complex delivery leadership, senior executive engagement as well as an ability to quickly grasp the delivery “big picture” in order to take action in a proactive manner. Traditional administrative backgrounds are not enough to prevail in today’s delivery environment.  

2. Domain and local knowledge is highly valuable. In addition to delivery leadership, executive engagement and the ability to sense prevailing conditions, it’s very helpful to have additional knowledge in the areas of business domains, as well as localized organizational characteristics.

For example, the learning curve of a PMO lead that spent most of their career in healthcare would have to be enormous to grasp the terminology and concepts of energy exploration; the converse is also true, when an energy exploration PMO lead serves on a healthcare program. In addition, organizational entities in companies may differ between regions and product lines.

There are a few methods to help ensure that domain and local knowledge needs are fulfilled. Where possible, prioritize PMO leads that have prior business experience in a specified domain area. To assist with understanding the organizational entities, consider the PMO lead shadowing the overall program delivery lead in recurring leadership meetings.

Where there are no available PMO leads with the necessary business domain nor local knowledge, consider providing business domain training as well as conducting immersion sessions for the prospective PMO lead in advance of their start of their role. It’s much quicker to take PMO leads with the right mix of modern-day competencies and incrementally bring them up to speed in these areas than it is to try and instruct a business domain lead on complex delivery.

3. Rotational PMO lead roles build more effective delivery leaders. In order for PMO leads to stay ahead of the game, their role needs to start in advance of delivery activities. In today’s complex environment, any delay in staffing a PMO lead will be detrimental. The best way to avoid this problem is to make the PMO lead role a rotational staff function. This enables it to be a training ground for future delivery leaders.

In the military and other organizations, the notion of a rotational staff assignment is quite common. In addition, it is highly prized given the visibility it provides—as well as the ability it creates to foster further career growth (which might not be found in a traditional assignment).

Current delivery leadership that needs to gain experience with more complex delivery, as well as experienced new joiners, are both examples of candidates for modern-day PMO lead roles. In addition, standard PMO lead training should be designed, built and deployed. Organizations that identify, groom and deploy PMO leads in a timely manner are already starting out ahead of their competitors. This model is not limited to employees of an organization; performing the same function with suppliers is also valuable to reduce the chance of late PMO lead fulfillment.

The function of a program management office has been both an integral and essential component of complex industrial delivery for almost 100 years. Over the past few decades, technology delivery leaders—as well as stakeholders—have gained a similar level of appreciation for the importance of the program PMO lead.

As demand continues to increase with no end in sight to the shortage of capable PMO leads, it’s best that companies start to build their own cadre of future PMO leads; this is essential for both staffing this role in a timely manner, as well as to ensure the growth of delivery capability.

I welcome any comments on what others are doing to help both staff program PMO roles, as well grow this function in your own organization.

Posted by Kevin Korterud on: June 12, 2022 04:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Building Team Synergy and Resilience

By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD

As the pandemic stretches on, work-from-home programs continue to keep teams working virtually. During this time, we have performed courageously to deliver our strategic and business outcomes. Here I will share a select review of advice from industry experts as they explore how to build a post-pandemic response strategy.

According to McKinsey (2022), organizations have pivoted to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth toward building a better world. And Harvard Business Review (2020) notes that all types of companies have navigated the pandemic by pivoting their business models in the short term to survive—becoming more resilient in the long term.

Yet not all pivots generated an improved business outcome. Three trends in particular can help ensure a successful pivot:

  1. Align the pivot to a long-term trend driven by the pandemic
  2. Extend the firm’s existing capabilities, further solidifying the strategic plan
  3. Sustain profitability, which preserves and enhances the brand’s value to the customer

PWC’s Global Crisis Survey identified three key lessons that businesses can adopt for long-term resilience:

  1. Plan and prepare for inevitable disruption by establishing a crisis team
  2. Integrate teams and cross-company competencies to enable effective responses
  3. Build resilience governance into the organization’s culture

An opportunity, therefore, exists to consider how to prepare your team’s competence in driving synergy and resilience in order to lead post-pandemic growth strategies—and simultaneously pivot from those same strategies.

Here is a shortlist of what leaders can do to prepare for a post-pandemic recovery and support an organization:

  1. Develop mental agility to pivot among key strategies and deliver business outcomes as key shifts and business challenges arise
  2. Allow the process of learning to take effect across key leadership levels
  3. Integrate PMI and agile frameworks to ensure flexible planning activities
  4. Employ data analytics to support key insights in customer and marketplace forecasts
  5. Clarify the governance of key plans and what event would trigger a decisive strategic pivot
  6. Develop talent to migrate into new areas of company strategies and projects
  7. Gather teams in person in order to create synergy and move from “norm” to “perform”

In the end, the teams that are ready to execute and can pivot as necessary will be ready for the post-pandemic competitive environment.

Let me know if you have uncovered additional successful strategies—or any pitfalls to avoid—in building team synergy and resilience.

References

  1. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/risk-and-resilience/our-insights/covid-19-implications-for-business
  2. https://hbr.org/2020/07/how-businesses-have-successfully-pivoted-during-the-pandemic
  3. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/issues/crisis-solutions/covid-19.html
Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: April 27, 2022 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)
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